Recently, Bronson Van Wyck, the renowned wedding planner and author of Born to Party, has been planning smaller events than he’s used to. The reason, of course, is COVID-19 and the rightful corresponding restrictions on crowd sizes. Many of his clients scaled their once-blowout bashes down to intimate affairs, with the idea that in a year or two they will once again host the party of their dreams. Van Wyck is hopeful that can happen eventually–he cites the rebound that happened after 2008, when the economic recession caused a dramatic drop in large-scale events. But in the meantime, he’s hard at work perfecting the art of the small, safe, and still fabulous soirée.
There was an outdoor 30th birthday where he arranged custom cakes—so no one had to share—with individual candles for each guest. Another party, for 18 people, included a COVID-test voucher in the artfully designed invitation. (Though most guests’ tests were covered by insurance, the voucher served as a clear reminder that testing would be expected before the event.) Then there was a tiny wedding, where the grandparents had a socially distanced sweetheart table, and wore masks.
“When you’re doing a wedding for 30 people, you can focus so much more on every detail and make every single aspect of it perfect and personal,” Van Wyck says.
As the pandemic rages on, these pared-back celebrations will likely be the new normal in the near future. It’s a trend not seen since the Depression-era parties of the 1930s, or the wartime nuptials of the 1940s, when grooms were often about to be sent overseas, or granted a brief furlough. During each of these eras, life, and its milestones, were subject to uncertain and unforeseen societal demands.
Especially weddings: Etsy found that, from June to July this year, searches involving small-scale ceremonies spiked on the site. There was a 67 percent increase in searches for courthouse and city hall wedding items, a 29 percent increase in searches for mini-monies and elopement weddings, and a 10 percent increase in searches for elopement announcements. Wedding website The Knot found in May that 27 percent of couples were planning ceremonies with just themselves or with a small handful of family. (Months later, that number has surely increased.) Meanwhile, on social media, large gatherings inspire ire, especially after an affair in Maine became a super-spreader event.
But, as Van Wyck’s efforts indicate, small doesn’t mean slapdash. Whereas city-hall ceremonies or sudden elopements once carried the connotation of hastily thrown-together affairs, these pandemic-era micro-weddings are anything but. It-couple Natalia Vodianova and Antoine Arnault married at a Paris registry office—and she wore Ulyana Sergeenko Couture. Actress Elizabeth Gillies, who was supposed to get married at a St. Regis, instead picked a charming inn in New Jersey that was within driving distance of her family. Dean Isidro and Nicholas Holder stylishly married at their friend’s Watermill apple orchard—an affair they planned in 10 days, and which 75 guests watched over Zoom.
Vendors and wedding venues are taking note, pivoting their offerings to address the desire for quieter affairs. Farmgirl Flowers, for example, just launched a City Hall bouquet collection. The luxurious Montage Deer Valley resort in Utah is now planning outdoor weddings for up to 10 people that include event design, florals, linens, a three-course plated dinner, and a photographer. At Rosewood Mayakoba, couples can enjoy an elopement package with a waterfront ceremony led by a shaman—and a three-week honeymoon after. Once upon a time, properties like these would have been the site of lavish destination weddings. Now, they’re catering to a much smaller audience.
Some brides are realizing an intimate affair is all they ever wanted, anyway. As Elizabeth Gillies put it: “I don’t think I would’ve had it any other way. At the end of the day, it’s about you and the person you love. The rest doesn’t matter.” It seems, in 2020, the old-adage remains true: bigger isn’t always better.